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Is Netanyahu’s hard line from the heart or is it political?

REUTERS/Amir Cohen
Likud party supporters listening to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivering his victory speech on Wednesday.

Eight thoughts (with links) after the Israeli election:

1. Read Mark Porubcansky’s overview, for MinnPost, of the election result. The nut graph:

“Rather than signifying the ‘great victory’ [Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu] declared via Twitter after the polls closed Tuesday, however, the election is unlikely to make Israel any easier to govern. If anything, the tenor of his campaign will make differences with the Obama administration over Iran’s nuclear program and Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians even worse. Relations with Israel’s sizable Arab minority will be both trickier and more significant.”

2. Tom Friedman’s take, (from his column in this morning New York Times):

“It is hard to know what is more depressing: that Netanyahu went for the gutter in the last few days in order to salvage his campaign — renouncing his own commitment to a two-state solution with the Palestinians and race-baiting Israeli Jews to get out and vote because, he said, too many Israeli Arabs were going to the polls —  or the fact that this seemed to work.

“To be sure, Netanyahu could reverse himself tomorrow. As the Yediot Ahronot columnist Nahum Barnea wrote: Netanyahu’s promises are like something ‘written on ice on a very hot day.’ But the fact is a good half of Israel identifies with the paranoid, everyone-is-against-us, and religious-nationalist tropes Netanyahu deployed in this campaign. That, along with the fact that some 350,000 settlers are now living in the West Bank, makes it hard to see how a viable two-state solution is possible anymore no matter who would have won.”

3. Turnout of eligible Israeli voters in yesterday’s election: 71.8 percent.

Turnout of U.S. voters in 2014 election: 36.3 percent.

I know. You’re saying that 2014 was only a midterm election, an argument I hate because the entire U.S. House is on the ballot in midterms plus one-third of the U.S. Senate, but OK, let’s go to the last presidential election year.

U.S. turnout in 2012: 54.0 percent.

4. The tight and bipartisan U.S.-Israeli friendship doesn’t go back as far a lot of us think when we reflexively cite Harry Truman’s quick recognition of Israel’s independence in 1948. The modern alliance and the big annual aid packages really date from the 1967 war. But it grew more and more solid and meaningful for decades. Now it is more partisan and more frail than usual. President Obama and Netanyahu neither like nor trust each other and Netanyahu’s recent visit to speak to Congress was a new irritant. There is some possibility from here that the alliance will recede further or become more and a more divided along party lines within the United States.

5. Most American Jews are Democrats and it appears that younger American Jews are more willing than their parents to be critical of Israel, especially when it is under right-wing leadership and if the leadership is stonewalling the so-called “peace process.” J Street, an organization dominated by young American Jews which calls itself “pro-Israel and pro-peace,” put out a statement (by J Street founder Jeremy Ben-Ami) that began:

“Benjamin Netanyahu’s victory is a deep disappointment to all who hoped that Israel might choose a new direction for the country in yesterday’s election.

“The Prime Minister’s renunciation of the two-state solution and resort to a campaign grounded in fear and tinged with racism successfully moved 150,000 votes from other right-wing parties into the Likud column in the campaign’s final days. But we fear that the cost to Israel in the long-run will be steep in terms of support here in the United States and internationally.”

The full J Street statement is here.

6. Israel has a vibrant free press, which stands out in the generally undemocratic and authoritarian region in which it is situated. Here are the headlines with links to the lineup of op-ed pieces in today’s edition of the left-Labor-leaning newspaper Ha’aretz:

Netanyahu won, but Israel was brought to its knees (by Ari Shavit).

Netanyahu deserves the Israeli people, and they deserve him (by Gideon Levy).  

As an Israeli, I am ashamed that my prime minister is a racist (by Bradley Burston).  

Netanyahu won, but he lost his image as national leader (by Uri Misgav).  

7. Does Netanyahu’s hard line on the issue of a two-state solution come from the heart or is it political? Personally, I was more convinced that Netanyahu was faking about wanting to reach a two-state deal. I can’t read his heart but you might note that Netanyahu’s father, Benzion Netanyahu, to whom the son was devoted, was a substantial figure in the hard-line right “revisionist” movement within Zionism. The revisionists believed in a “greater Israel,” basically including all of the territory now comprising Israel, the West Bank and Gaza and, in various times and cases, Jordan as well. Benzion Netanyahu opposed the 1948 United Nations actions that created the modern state of Israel, basically because it didn’t give Israel enough territory. It is, of course, unfair to assign the father’s politics to the son. There have always been those who speculated that Benjamin could never trade land for peace with the Arabs as long as his father was alive. Benzion died in 2012 at age 102.

8. Of course, it was Menachem Begin, the leader of the revisionist Zionists and man implicated in acts of terror against Arabs, who signed the Camp David peace accord ending the permanent state of war between Egypt and Israel. It was Ariel Sharon, the patron of the movement to build settlements in the occupied territories, who as prime minister pulled all the settlements out of Gaza. Netanyahu is a mere 65 and looks to be fit for a while yet. He could surprise us.

Comments (17)

  1. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 03/18/2015 - 05:19 pm.

    Since Bibi

    will clearly do anything to get elected, and reverse himself without compunction, there’s no way of predicting what he will do, beyond that it will be an attempt to keep himself in office.
    Bibi does not have a long term interest in anything. For once, I agree with Tom Friedman.

    I hope that Bibi and what he symbolizes does not permanently fracture the bond between Israel and the United States, but I can’t take anything for granted anymore.

    BTW — I don’t know what J Streets demographics are, but at 73 I can remember the birth of Israel in 1948 and I have belonged to J Street pretty well since its foundation. Maybe we’re just young at heart!

  2. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 03/18/2015 - 07:24 pm.

    The US chained by the end-time fantasies of the Christian right to the bring-it-on Zionist expansionists.

    Whatever could go wrong ?

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 03/18/2015 - 07:54 pm.


      you could imagine and probably a few more you couldn’t.

    • Submitted by Steve Titterud on 03/19/2015 - 09:14 am.

      Israel is no more trouble than a millstone around our necks !!

      There is a grand myth that Americans in general are willing to sacrifice everything for Israel. This is very far from the truth.

      The U.S. relationship with Israel is actually driven by the vast fund-raising power, political bribery, and political terrorism of AIPAC and its myriad of offspring.

      See for some examples of lavish trips to Israel for American congressmen for “educational” purposes.

      These would appear to be a list of Republicans, but if you thought only they were the venal ones, you’d be wrong – the Democrats are just as anxious to receive AIPAC’s political donations AND just as anxious to stay off their hit list. They have a reputation of going after their perceived enemies tooth and nail – you know, an “eye for an eye”.

      The Christian Right loves Israel, and you are right as to why. Who better than Netanyahu and his cohort to speed us towards the End Times and the Apocalypse, which is sure to be followed by the Rapture ?

      • Submitted by Neal Rovick on 03/19/2015 - 01:52 pm.

        Yes, Democrats take the money–but the real energy comes from the right via the pressures of fundamentalist Christians (yes, mostly Republican) and the theology–see “Stand with Israel” movement.

  3. Submitted by stephen silberfarb on 03/19/2015 - 12:09 pm.

    Let’s all take a breath

    Well written, Eric (as usual!).

    1. Overall, left/center/right barely moved. The biggest movement came from the united Arab parties — they appear to have gained seats. Note to Israel-haters — your charges of apartheid ring hollow when Israeli Arabs run unfettered and are elected to Israel’s parliament (and serve as judges, diplomats etc). Yes, Israel is a divided country and seemingly increasingly polarized. Sound familiar?

    2. Friedman’s hysteria.I agree that Netanyahu’s retreat from 2-states and his exhortations regarding the Israeli Arab (citizens!) vote are deplorable. But the thought that they worked as Friedman suggests is silly. Perhaps they persuaded right wing voters to vote for him instead of his right wing opponents/allies. But it’s a stretch to think they changed centrists/left voters. Friedman is wrong to cast Netanyahu supporters as paranoid.They worry about security the same as the centrist and (most) moderate leftists. Many who favor 2-states do so with great suspicion and under specific security conditions and as part of a resolution of all disagreements including Jerusalem and right of return. Some who favored 2-states were forced to re-thing their position after Israel withdrew from Gaza and found that only invited Hamas closer. Well the West Bank is even closer to the heart of Israel. And what’s happened since the Gaza withdrawal? Israel has been forced to re-enter Gaza on several occasions and we’ve also seen the birth of ISIS, the collapse of Syria and the increased military and political influence of Iran proxies like Hezbollah. Note to Tom: even paranoids have enemies. Try finding an American politician with a long-term perspective. It seems voters don’t appreciate that and if nothing else our politicians do understand the voters (and donors!).

    3. The turnout of Israeli voters should send a message about the what Israelis are thinking. This is a free country that broadcasts the news every hour on the hour (and people listen!) and has a robust free press. Most Israelis are fully tuned in. Note to Obama and western leaders: Israelis are worried. Win their trust. A divided Israel can’t make compromises for peace. Yes, holding on to the remaining territories is untenable. But it’s better than inviting your enemies closer and rolling out the red carpet to your destruction. The Arab world is in pieces and there’s little in the way of predictability. Imagine what the situation would be if Morsi still controlled Egypt. I’m not saying I agree or otherwise justifying it. But I think it’s the reality for many Israelis who vote right but aren’t ideologically right.

    4. Totally agree, Eric. I don’t know what the answer is to America’s partisan logjam (3rd party reflecting centrists — good luck with that; involved citizenry — even less likely it seems). And I’m not sure what the answer is to Israel’s smaller scale red-state/blue-state challenge. But it’s allowed both to develop a dance partner with the other and it’s a dance that perpetuates frustration and exhausts reformers/centrists who understandably quit the scene.

    5. J-Street is not an influential entity in American politics. I’m not sure it’s even influential in American Jewish politics. J Street is largely an insider presence that mostly connects with other insiders. It certainly isn’t trusted (no surprise) by Netanyahu and friends. It may be a convenient ally for Netanyahu opponents but also not viewed as an influential political player. The overwhelming majority of American Jews support a 2-state solution. I think a similar portion would have preferred a Netanyahu defeat. That doesn’t make them J-Streeters. That said, polls do indicate that younger American Jews are less dialed in on Israel than prior generations. Many factors contribute.

    6. Well said, Eric. Democracy is messy.

    7. ? Who knows what Netanyahu means? There’s one way to find out. Like Sadat coming to Jerusalem, Palestinians, supported by the Arab world, propose the deal we all think would be the fair deal. Limited right of return, ’67 lines with various adjustments, Jerusalem sharing, recognition of Israel as Jewish state. You know why that won’t happen? For the same reason it hasn’t happened since 1947’s partition of Palestine. The Palestinians don’t accept Israel and won’t agree to a final peace settlement.You mention Netanyahu’s father. Yes, he opposed partition. And indeed the partition left the Jews of Palestine with far less territory than they had been promised and that was viable from a security perspective. Israel’s founders didn’t love the partition plan. But they knew it was the best way to a Jewish state. The majority ruled and enforced it. Voila, Israel is founded. On the Palestinian side, its versions of Benzion won the day, and 68 years later….Nothing.

    8. Maybe. Begin and Sharon were different leaders in different periods. I hope you’re right.

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 03/19/2015 - 09:27 am.


      your points numbers 1 and 3.
      The purpose of Bibi’s last minute scare tactics was not to swing voters; Israel is much too polarized for that to have much effect.
      As we’ve seen in American politics, the key is increasingly to boost the turnout of your own voters; to make sure that the people who agree with you (or who disagree with your opponent) actually vote.
      Note: about one quarter of Israeli voters selected Bibi’s party as their first choice.

    • Submitted by Raj Maddali on 03/19/2015 - 07:21 pm.

      Lets Breath the “Honesty” At Last- From Netenyahu

      1. Note to Israel “haters” – Millions of Palestinians under Israeli rule did not vote. Their Jewish neighbors did. For being about 20 percent of the voting population, Israeli Arabs have a few token positions inside Israel. They have never been part of the Govt.

      The “haters” may want to ask former President Abdul Kalam of India, the Supreme Commander of India’s Armed Forces and Missile Chief or General J.F.R Jacob (an Jew) the victorious commander of the battle of West Pakistan or General Aurora (a Sikh) the commander of East Pakistan or General Mankeshaw (Catholic) the Supreme Commander of Indian Armed Forces or Sonia Gandhi (Catholic) if a few token minorities in India would have sufficed as an equal India.

      2. As Peter Beinart has stated, the two-state solution by major American Jewish groups is a fraud. Israel withdrew from Gaza. And made it a prison. And blames everyone else.

      ” AIPAC serves as political bodyguard for the settlement process that brings one state ever closer; ”

      3. Israelis are not worried. Would you be worried if you had a trump card. That trump card is an American veto at the UN. The Israeli right is proud of it. And show it. Ever read of the open calls for Apartheid by Naftali Bennet, the calls to behead Arabs by Lieberman, and now the race baiting by Netenyahu. Does that sound like a “worried” crowd ?

      4. Whatever.

      5. J-Street is not big. But it sure is inconvenient for the AIPAC crowd. Is J-Street and the alternative media crowd ineffective ? Not if you read the polls of younger Americans who don’t buy the AIPAC propaganda anymore. Not if you read the polls of minority Americans, the fastest growing groups in America. Not if you go onto any American college campus. AIPAC will be irrelevant in a decade or so.

      6. Democracy is messy. Apartheid and its indirect support is immoral.

      7. “Who knows what Netanyahu said” – Why run away from what he said. Why is there such lack of clarity as to what he’s said, when there is so much clarity when any statement comes out of any Palestinian leader or Iranian leaders mouth.

      The Palestinian have accepted an come to terms with a two state solution. You don’t claim a cake is for another person while you’re eating it. AIPAC has been the biggest supporter and enforcer of a one-state solution while its supporters stay silent.

      8. Sharon was no leader. He withdrew from Gaza, to make the West Bank a part of Israel.

  4. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 03/19/2015 - 08:56 am.

    As Hillary Clinton would say

    What difference does it make? The fact is that the relationship between Israel and the U.S. is the worst its ever been and it won’t change until Obama is out of office, replaced by a republican president.

    • Submitted by Jonathan Ecklund on 03/19/2015 - 04:05 pm.

      The difference, is that the leader of the Republican party just got elected to another term in Israel. It’s likely that Netanyahu will continue to undercut whatever foreign policy efforts the Obama Administration will try and undertake in the region, along with his US Congressional allies.

      Don’t hold your breath on the last part.

      • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 03/22/2015 - 04:04 pm.


        Actually Bibi didn’t get elected; his party (Likud) did. This is the way a parliamentary system works.
        And three quarters of Israeli voters preferred some other party — hardly a mandate for BiBi.
        That’s why he ran so scared.

        • Submitted by Jonathan Ecklund on 03/23/2015 - 11:17 am.

          Well, yes, I am familiar with the differences between a parliamentary system vs a presidential system. but I think all parties in Israel (and abroad) knew whom Likud would put up as it’s leader, IF Likud was able to put together a governing coalition. Netanyahu is still the titular head of the party, if I’m not mistaken.

  5. Submitted by beryl john-knudson on 03/19/2015 - 10:19 am.

    The ‘heart’ of Bibi; call it what you will…

    Bibi’s heart…is the heart of a trickster and the Israelis; Arab or Israeli citizens have been sold down the river of no return sad to say… and the results may be the beginning of what could be a nuclear war in the making compliments of Bibi?
    Wish it will not be so but Bibi worked the crowds like a snake oil salesman breeding fear among the undecided….

    As a long time reader and mindful supporter of Martin Buber the Jewish philosopher; his teachings were cast aside by some Jewish academics years ago one could say… as his teachings were considered too “poetic” and unjustifiably ignored by his critics for in their careless misunderstanding of the ‘other”, way back in the 60’s. Buber recognized the human over one’s possible ‘ethnicity’ – do remember Arab and Jew are all Semitic as a root culture… self loathing is not a way to go by either feuding families’? …”Ich and Du”, “I and Thou” was Martin Buber’s most powerful book, treatise; although his ideas stretch much farther beyond that small volume.

    Buber’s bi-national solution is assertively too far from the present times where hate is the common bedfellow…and be it Arab or Jew, such a bi-national perspective is presently impossible…but a two-state solution with Peace as its hallmark would have been an alternative solution in these most love-hollow times?

    Don’t expect much from Bibi who ignores the will of the people he will govern…he will drive them into war as if they were cattle; rather than human beings?

    Possibly, the was no positive choice among the parties…but at least the two Arab groups banded together and activated a large coalition representing those who seek peace….a future that speaks for the majority of wiser voters?

    Bibi speaks for his own self, railroading the uncommitted and pushing the fear factor…not a great way to go,no.

  6. Submitted by Ed Felien on 03/19/2015 - 11:45 am.

    Selling fear and loathing buys votes

    The election was a step toward clarity. Bibi is at last honest. He never supported a two-state solution. The aim was always to get the Palestinians to compromise and to allow settlers to locate in the West Bank. Now begins the legal and political Intifada. Let the ICC determine whether Israel committed war crimes in Gaza last year. Let Palestine seek nation status at the U N. Let the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement continue. Let us see how many countries will support an Israel that destroys the hopes and rights of Palestinians.

  7. Submitted by beryl john-knudson on 03/20/2015 - 10:25 am.

    With ears wide open for a change…

    Bibi has become a joke; a powerless kid in short pants having a “tantrum”, but who listens to him anymore with any respect on the greater world stage?

    Bibi is essentially not gaining the ear of European neighbors…viewed by Iran’s leaders as a “vagabond”, “Zionist clown” (an interesting take on the Iran issue by MK Bhadrakumar on Asia Times.)

    Call it a positive approach for a change rather than the second hand demonizing by Israel’s bad boy… hey, Bibi stand in the corner or shape up, you have a nation to direct? Reload your political rucksack, frayed as it may be and recognize an alternative perspective for a change… can you do it.?

    Certainly hope so…Co-existence is the word and the only possible end to the hate mongering rhetoric that only distorts. Put your N missiles away; back in your toy box and let’s all survive…be a good listener for a change…

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